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Fostering in?dependence

When BFB (that’s my titular best friend) first came back to Mediocre U, a blog friend warning me against collaborating with her. I ignored that warning, of course, and we started a project together. It’s…not going super well.

She doesn’t have the time for the project–she should have said no, like pretenure faculty are always being told to. (Say no, ya’ll. You’re just going to end up pissing off your collaborators.) So I can either forge ahead without her and totally take over, or wait on her. She’s not an experimentalist, so she doesn’t get that with experimental projects you have to keep working on the little things or you will never achieve anything. Little delays add up to big delays, so the waiting is extra frustrating for me.

These challenges are pretty typical, and in other collaborations I can shrug them off. Less typical is the way she keeps asking me for large amounts of support for things she can do herself. For example, her assigned task = write email. Obvious approach = write the fucking email. Her approach = wait two weeks then ask me to send her a draft of the email because of some terror about acting independently.

This makes my skin crawl for two reasons.

1) I am aaaaaaall about being independent and self reliant, in ways that have been both positive (I get shit done!) and negative (sometimes I suffer more than I need to because I won’t ask for help), so this violates my core values and provokes a very strong reaction.

2) It’s like working with a toddler.

A LOT of my home life revolves around thinking about what my children are and aren’t capable of and trying to help them find greater capacity. Sometimes my strong feelings about independence mean I don’t do this in an optimal way. I expect more of them than they are capable of and get furious when they don’t meet my expectations. I have a hair trigger for situations where they’re refusing to do things that they do for themselves all the time. (Like this morning Bun Bun refused to make her bed. I need help! I can’t dooooo it! This chore that she does Every Fucking Morning.) It sets off a cascade of irrational but deep-seated feelings–I survived my childhood by taking care of myself, so if they aren’t self-reliant then they won’t be SAFE.

At other times I can be reasonable and gentle with them, and even enjoy the snail’s pace at which they acquire skills. I can help them achieve things that they still need help with and encourage them to persevere in the face of frustration.

But I don’t want to fucking deal with it at work, too.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Oy. Yes. I’m in a field in which collaborative work is the exception rather than the rule. I took on a project with a former grad student who is also a good friend and…yeah. Our friendship is being tested for precisely these sorts of reasons. I’ve tried to back out of it multiple times, subtly and less so…

    June 26, 2015
  2. The BFB situation doesn’t sound good. I think I already know the answer to this (you have written about her in the past, right?) but can you nicely, professionally, address some of the issues directly?

    I am so impressed by your efforts to foster toddler independence. Seriously. You have a 4 year old who generally makes her own bed! We are not good at this and I am pretty convinced that it is culturally wired in the Italian psyche to all but actively discourage independence, backass tribal people that we are.

    June 26, 2015
  3. Steph #

    Is it possible to find a suitable replacement and then drop her or are you committed to see it through together? I’m curious.

    This situation plain old sucks.

    June 27, 2015
  4. Oh, the joys of dual relationships. Sounds like the BFB situation is making you want to pull out all your lovely hair (I would have worked my way into baldness, myself). I’m sorry you find yourself in this shitty situation at work. And that it is SO incredibly reminiscent of what goes on at home.
    But I am glad you are getting to reflect on your own patterns and reactions re: survival and self-reliance. You are so deeply wise and strong, dear woman. Sending love.

    June 29, 2015
  5. SRB #

    My expectations of my kids are high, and they creep higher without me noticing and then I LOSE MY MIND when they act like…children. But still, the IRRATIONAL RAGE courses through all my neurons. Perhaps I was fortunate to not have had to ever really work with adults in any capacity (either teenagers or independent writing) but I have zero tolerance for bullshit like not being able to write an email. BUT this is from a woman who cannot order a pizza on the phone so…

    Get your shit together, BFB.

    June 29, 2015

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